Publisher's Pick: Indian summer blew in on memory-laden winds

Indian summer.jpg
This iconic illustration of Indian summer, drawn by John T. McCutcheon, was first published in the Chicago Tribune in 1912.

"From his pipe the smoke ascending

Filled the sky with haze and vapor,

Filled the air with dreamy softness,

Gave a twinkle to the water,

Touched the rugged hills with smoothness,


Brought the tender Indian Summer

To the melancholy north-land,

In the dreary Moon of Snow-shoes."

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Hiawatha," 1855

I must take issue with local weather forecasters. Until recently, some were still talking about how they were holding out hope that we'd have an Indian summer this year.

Have they been under a rock? Locked away in a dark closet? Holed up in a neon-lit sports bar?

The way I see it, an Indian summer did arrive this November. You just had to be very aware because it came in pieces, in fits and starts. Perhaps you recall the glorious weather on Sunday, Nov. 3? Or the gorgeous day we enjoyed Saturday, Nov. 9?


In my world, an Indian summer follows the first killing frost, and we had that, for certain. Then we had our gift, an abnormally warm period, varying in length that comes in the autumn, usually in November. We had some sunshine to go along with the warm temps. And yes, we had wind, a great deal of pesky wind gusts.

All in all, we had an Indian summer, and I reveled in every minute of it.

Basking in the sun

I took great advantage of those two glorious November weekend days. Sunshine prevailed more than not as I completed my end-of-season yard work. The flower beds garnered most of my attention. Clumps of root-bound hostas, day lilies and peonies were cut back, one by one, until dozens and dozens were pruned close to the earth. The overgrown hydrangeas, Japanese lilacs and elderberry bushes crowding too close to windows were pruned to permit weak winter sunlight to brighten gloomy rooms in days ahead.

The gusty wind aggravated me — until I smartened up and embraced its power. Thereafter, I strategically cut and tossed detritus windward. I suspect neighboring lawns became the ungrateful beneficiaries.

The wind taught me to listen very hard. I could hear little but the wind grazing my ears, drowning out Fleetwood Mac and Three Dog Night playing on my iPhone.

My listening tuned instead into wind patterns. In moments of stillness, I anticipated hearing the wind, at first, high up in tallest trees. Maple, mountain locust, cottonwood, the ancient, towering oak. Noisy gusts rushing and pushing against stubborn leaves, whipping branches.

Moments later, the wind descended from tree-top to garden level. Wheeeee!I tossed cuttings into the wind and watched them gambol across lawn and drive. Windy days are not the days to rake fruitlessly and fret.


A time for reflection

Yard work is cheap mental therapy. I mindlessly fight my fights and plan my plans.

For hours, without interruption, I can think, I can remember. Re-blush at past stupidities. Smile in warm memories. In the reverie of autumnal yard work, I think about Thanksgivings past and upcoming.

Thanksgiving this year will be at my son Seth's home in Wheaton, Ill. Dear Megan deeply desired to host dinner this year, even with two small children constantly at her feet. Sheryl and I will bring carefully prepared dishes, but the torch has been passed.

I miss my grandparents at times like these, when love was unconditional. When, for all appearances to my siblings, the world revolved around me.

In the quiet hours of yard-work solitude, I played a mind game that perhaps is common among folks of an advancing age. I thought, "What is my legacy? For what will I be remembered at family Thanksgiving dinners, hopefully far into the future? What could be an epitaph that sums my life's journey?"

The wind gave me the answer — with an assist from poet Marge Piercy, who puts it far better than ever I could: "Long after me is the wind."

Randy Chapman is publisher of the Post-Bulletin. He wishes readers a Thanksgiving warmed by the presence of loved ones and graced by sweet memories of those once-and-ever loved.

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